The short answer, is probably “no”. There seem to be a lot of popular misconceptions about annulments. In particular, some believe that annulment is simply a convenient alternative to divorce and preferably a low-cost one. This is simply not the case.
Divorce vs. Annulment
A divorce is different from an annulment. A divorce is the legalized end of a valid marriage. An annulment is a legal recognition that the marriage had some deficiency from the start and therefore will not be recognized as a marriage from the start.
The reality is, in Minnesota there are only a few narrow circumstances in which you may be entitled to an annulment. In Minnesota, there are two types of situation in which an annulment may apply. There are “void” marriages and “voidable” marriages.
Void vs. Voidable Marriages
Void marriages refer to marriages that were never and can never be valid as a matter of law. These fall into three types:
- Same-sex marriages
- Marriages with close blood relatives
- Marriages when one party was still previously married
Most frequently I see this question pop up for the last situation. Specifically, a later spouse discovers that their partner was married previously and had never been legally divorced. In this situation, the latter marriage is automatically invalid in Minnesota. The solution is to have the married party legally divorce and then remarry their second spouse.
Voidable marriages are those that will be allowed to continue, despite their deficiency, unless one party or the other challenges the marriage in a timely manner based on the deficiency. Voidable marriages in Minnesota include:
- At least one party was underage (less than 18)
- At least one party was not able to consummate the marriage and the other party did not know of this at the time of marriage or
- At least one party lacked capacity due to any of:
Incapacity due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol
One party committed fraud or used force to compel the marriage
Annulment Conditions Usually Don’t Apply to Divorce Situations
The bulk of reasons for dissolving a marriage, like financial struggles, infidelity, disagreements regarding child care, or abuse don’t generally trigger the conditions needed for an annulment. This is why divorce, not annulment, is almost always the proper course of action if one party wants to get out of a marriage.
Different Trends with Separation and Divorce
A research study at Ohio State University released last week revealed interesting research regarding separation and divorce rates.
The study followed over 7,000 people from 1979 until 2008. The participants were interviewed every other year from 1994 to 2008. Some interesting findings:
- 49% percent of participants left their first marriage during the study
- 60% of those individuals had gone through a marital separation
- 80% of these separations ended in divorce
It’s important to clarify that “separated” in the study simply meant living apart. This is different from a “legal separation” which requires a court hearing. A legal separation involves a division of property and spouses living separately, however does not legally divorce the parties.
In addition to looking at general divorce patterns, the study also examined differences between those who legally divorced and those who just separated. Historically, a legal separation has been a viable option for those with religious beliefs which disapprove of divorce. However, this study did not show a difference in separation rates among those in different religious groups.
The Demographics that Relate to Separation vs. Divorce
In contrast, almost 75% of those who separated and stayed that way or who separated then reunited were black or Hispanic. Those who separated also tended to have more children than those who divorced. In addition, “In every measure we had, including family background, income and education, those who remain separated are more disadvantaged than those who are divorcing,” Zhenchao Qian, one of the researchers, said. Based on this Professor Dmitry Tumin, study co-author, concluded, “Long-term separation seems to be the low-cost, do-it-yourself alternative to divorce for many disadvantaged couples.
Lastly, divorce proceedings include child custody, child support, spousal maintenance (alimony), and property division rulings. Without these, individuals may have difficulty enforcing their legal rights or get the benefits they need from their spouse/ex-spouse. Unfortunately, those without sufficient means, knowledge, or confidence in the legal system may not do what’s needed to protect these rights. Legal help services are available in Minnesota for those who need it.